Across many areas, suppliers are making innovative advances that continue to propel pouches as the fastest-growing packaging segment. Many of these developments are in response to consumers’ demands for more convenience in packaging, at the same time balancing their concerns for protecting the environment. While meeting these concerns, brand owners also want to improve branding, control rising costs and maintain operational efficiency.
Recent innovations span a variety of applications, from the use of single polymers in pouches to the addition of active and intelligent capabilities, such as Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Augmented Reality (AR). In almost every area, suppliers are edging forward, adding new features and benefits that enhance the value of flexible packaging.
Flexible packaging is in the catbird seat right now, says David Luttenberger, global packaging director at market intelligence agency Mintel. “The reason I say that is because of what’s going on with environmental responsibility, what’s going on with the plastics issue,” he says. “The flexible packaging industry has said: ‘We know we are not recyclable. We will not be able to maintain or grow as an industry if we do not respond to the challenge of plastics waste and plastics reduction…We are going to be obsoleted.’ The flexible packaging industry has responded. We are beginning to see a lot of developments and a lot of research into flexible alternatives.”
Luttenberger anticipates environmentally friendly developments for flexible packaging in the following areas:
- Higher recycled content
- Different types of laminations without using adhesives.
- Developments in barrier properties and compatiblizers.
- Further work toward making flexibles more recyclable.
“We have pieces that work separately, but how do we bring them together?” he asks. “I honestly think we are closer (to solutions) than many people think we are. I believe in the next few years we are going to see a multilayer, mono-material package that is truly recyclable that could be handled curbside.”
Alison Keane, president and CEO of the Flexible Packaging Association, says sustainability continues to be a focus with flexible packaging. She points to the use of compostable materials; bio-based plastics; and conversion of multi-material pouches to single layer for recyclability, such as the in-store drop-off program for polyethylene films.
“With each new adaptation, there is considerable technology and industry collaboration among the supply chain to ensure that the properties of the package, particularly the barrier properties, remain consistent and things like shelf-life and product protection are not sacrificed,” Keane says.
While sustainability is a driving force in flexible packaging innovations, Luttenberger says convenience still trumps environmental responsibility in most cases. Consumers want convenience, freshness and taste. That’s why many pouch innovations include features such as easy opening, dispensing or resealing. Convenience also accounts for the increased variety of sizes in pouches, as well as on-the-go technology.
Christina Cvetan, a partner and co-founder at Ahead of the Curve Group, also sees many developments in the arena of active and intelligent packaging, which can add significant value to a brand by providing a different consumer experience. Cvetan, who will present on innovation at the upcoming Global Pouch Forum to be held June 11-13 in Rosemont, Ill., says active and Intelligent packaging can extend shelf life, monitors freshness, displays information on quality, and can improve safety and convenience, while giving consumers additional information about a product’s benefits.
At this point, active and intelligent packaging is most commonly used on higher value products, such as pharmaceuticals, spirits and certain foods. The emerging technologies — including QR codes, augmented reality, near-field communications, temperature indicators and others — can connect the physical product with the digital world.
Brands are just beginning to understand how to use some of these technologies, and the prices are coming down, making their use more viable for a wider variety of products and packaging. She points to NFC and AR, whose early use often has been seen as trendy and for limited promotional purposes. However, Cvetan says progressive brands are using these resources to provide deeper communication to consumers, emphasizing messages like social purpose.
Often, people claim the United States is behind many other countries in flexible packaging innovation. Luttenberger says the U.S. is not behind in the innovations but is behind in the adoption rates because many Americans equate rigid packaging with quality without realizing the many benefits of flexible packaging.
He also says consumers here can be slow to adapt to totally new packaging. “Sometimes you put packaging in front of consumers that is so different that they don’t know what it means to them. It can disrupt their shopping or user experience.”
As a jurist for Dow’s upcoming 2019 Packaging Innovation Awards, Luttenberger says he expects to see significant advances in flexible packaging. One development that will drive these advances, he says, is greater collaboration within the industry. “It’s when segments come together to share resources and technologies that everyone will benefit more quickly and in an exponentially greater way.”
Molson Coors Beer Bag Ices Pouch Competition
The Molson Coors 12-Pack Cooler received the Highest Achievement in this year’s Flexible Packaging Association awards. The Grab & Chill pouch was designed by Bemis Co. as a reusable cooler bag for Molson Coors, offering a fresh take on the ubiquitous beer carton.
The flexible bag delivers portable convenience with a pouch that expands into a larger, reusable bag providing additional convenience features. This innovative package features easy-carry handles and can go directly into the refrigerator or cooler. The film’s sturdy, high performance structure allows consumers to reuse the bag. Reusability provides brand benefits that communicate quality to brand-loyal consumers. Bemis produces the bag on a conventional pouch machine used to make pouches for applications in industries such as pet food or lawn and garden products.
The Grab & Chill bag offers many packaging conveniences, including the sensory and audible EASY-LOCK closure system by APLIX that allows consumers to fill the bag with ice and instantly reseal to keep beverages cold. It uses hook-to-hook technology makes it easy to open, with minimal pressure needed to reclose packages.
Nestlé Nesquik Hits Shelves In Recyclable Paper Pouch
Nestlé has launched a new Nesquik All Natural powder featuring a simplified, natural ingredients list marketed in a recyclable paper pouch. Nestlé has launched the Nesquik All Natural in five European markets.
The new pouch is made of a coated paper that is recyclable in the paper stream. The paper is from sustainable sources, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The pouches have been extensively tested to make sure they keep the Nesquik powder in perfect condition during transport and storage.
The Nesquik launch came less than two months after Nestlé committed to accelerate action tackling plastic waste. It is one of the first products to put that pledge into action, moving from recyclable plastic to recyclable paper packaging.
Yasser Abdul Malak, head of the dairy category for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, added: “The recyclable paper pouch is the first of its kind, one of our key initiatives towards providing more sustainable packaging across our product portfolio. Moving from plastic to paper is a big challenge, but an important step in designing the food packaging of the future. We have taken that step today to ensure we truly meet consumers’ demand for more natural and sustainable food.”
Hybrid Veggie Pouches Offer Multiple Benefits
To launch its frozen, spiralized vegetables, Green Giant turned to a hybrid PrimaPak pouch. This patented and versatile technology, produced by a joint venture, including Sonoco Flexible Packaging, acts as a bowl and allows consumers to blend ingredients, conveniently heat and serve without additional dishes. The semi-rigid, rectangular container with peel and reseal functionality limits waste through the use of less plastic compared to traditional trays.
“Green Giant was looking to capitalize on the new trend of frozen, spiralized vegetables, a healthier alternative to pasta. We worked with them from start to finish — designing a packaging solution that worked with their filling equipment, could withstand the rigors of distribution, lowered the overall carbon footprint, and created a truly unique retail presence — even adding value for the consumer by letting them microwave, blend, serve, and eat right from the original package,” says Jimmy Sanfilippo, president of Sonoco’s Elk Grove operation.
The graphics cover all six panels of the package, providing a vibrant billboard effect on the freezer shelf to catch the eye of the consumer. Resembling a folding carton, the package stands vertically for maximum branding. The flexible, stackable, resealable package is produced from a single roll of film on modified Ilapak vertical form-fill-seal machinery. PrimaPak rollstock can also incorporate renewable, plant-based plastics.
The Grab & Chill bag offers many packaging conveniences, including the sensory and audible EASY-LOCK by APLIX closure system that allows consumers to fill the bag with ice and instantly reseal to keep beverages cold. It uses hook-to-hook technology makes it easy to open, with minimal pressure needed to reclose packages.
Plant-Based Biopolymers Strengthen Plastics Usage
Plastics usage is under attack. To make plastic packaging more environmentally friendly, a number of companies are pursuing ways to make it safely recyclable, compostable and biodegradable.
The company’s plasticized thermoplastic BioBlend resins offer functional and environmental benefits for packaging applications. The overall benefits of BioLogiQ’s BioBlend resins are to reduce the use of fossil fuel-based polyolefins and other plastics, reduce greenhouse gas generation and potentially improve strength, allowing significant downgauging especially in films. This allows a reduction in materials and greenhouse gasses.
According to Dale Brockman, sales vice president, when NuPlastiQ is blended with polyolefins, the Eco-Alloy BioBlend resins are at least as strong, and usually stronger, than the partner resins alone. They are recyclable as they are still commonly used films such as LLDPE, LDPE, HDPE, and polypropylene. In fact, he says the material is possibly more recyclable as the added strength provided by NuPlastiQ allows for more reprocessing and recycling cycles.